Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On emulsions


There is something magical about an emulsion that makes me giddy. My introduction to emulsions started with mayonnaise. It's amazingly simple. Delicate. Versatile. Lighter than the jarred stuff you grew up with.

The magic is in the process of watching something teeter between a sloppy greasy mess or a light and fluffy spread. A little too much oil at any one moment and your mayo will turn on you quickly. But I've never been prouder than when I saw with my own eyes, something that started to appear like a mayo. There was a point where I thought I had done something wrong. Where it wasn't quite a sloppy mess but nowhere close to what it should be. And then, poof, with it turned for the better. All the whisking was worth it.

The beauty of it all is that this can be a base for so many different flavors. The mayo above turned into a miso mayo based on a Gourmet magazine recipe. I replaced the white miso with a red creating a less creamy and bolder flavor. It was every bit as addictive as Gourmet suggests.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Red Hook Street Vendors

Red Hook Vendors

There's been a lot of drama in the past year surrounding the street vendors in Red Hook, but with all the dust seemingly settled, I was able to make the trek out to the soccer fields, via the free IKEA shuttle and enjoy some tacos.

Two of my friends had just gotten back from a trip down through central Mexico, lounging and relaxing. It seemed the thing they missed the most from their trip was a good Mexican taco. It seemed as if Red Hook would be the next best thing to flying back south of the border.

Tacos Barbacoa, Chicharrón, Al Pastor.

I had 3 tacos (left to right: Barbacoa, Chicharrón, Al Pastor) from the southern most taco truck.

My favorite was definitely the Al Pastor. There was such an intensity of flavors. A perfect blend of sweetness, acidity, and spice. The meat was tender. I wish I had room for more.

The Barbacoa and Chicharrón were mediocre, probably more because of the contrast to the Al Pastor. The Barbacoa was nice because of the perfect subtlety of the goat meat, but the flavors seemed so mellow and passive comparatively. The Chicharrón was odd in a taco and much better by itself. I could have done with a piece just as a side.

Seafood Ceviche

The fish & shrimp ceviche was amazing. There was a chewy texture to the cubes of fish that I could not get enough of. It was a great dish with bold flavors and addicted textures.

The vendors in Red Hook make cheap and delicious food but I'm still on the fence on whether its worth the trip. Even with the free IKEA making it more convenient to get to, its still ends up being a bit of a hike. The ferry doesn't leave as frequently as one might like with more than 40 minutes between each departure. Next time I go, it might have to be a larger part of my day by taking advantage of the nice parks surrounding the vendors and picking up supplies from the giant Swedish chain that provides the transportation.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sake Bar Hagi

Interior Bar Sake Hagi

On the outskirts of the bright lights of Times Square, Sake Bar Hagi sits in the shadows. Its not the type of bar you would expect so close to Times Square. Its so very close to being engulfed by the bright lights, but there it sits in the shadows; an unexpected find even for those who expect to find it. I was looking for it and still I missed it.

A few friends were in town and wanted to visit a late night spot for some food and drink. We decided to give Sake Bar Hagi a try because of its NYTimes review and guest appearance on No Reservations. Bourdain has yet to let me down as a reference point.

Watari Bune, chilling

Our first order of business was deciding on a sake. What we ended up getting was a bottle of Watari Bune's Junmai Ginjo 55 which was a beautiful sweet sake. The flavors were unique with a clean finish. I'm not sure how to fully describe it other than it was a joy to drink throughout the night.

The food was also consistently good, especially for the price point. Even with our sampling of the menu there were a few things I would go back just to try. Overall the menu was a selection of small plates, much like tapas, that go great shared with friends and/or alcohol. Good conversation is a must.

I really liked Sake Bar Hagi because of this. Unlike many places in New York, I wasn't strained when talking to friends. The noise was not overwhelming. The place operated like a restaurant but it felt like a lounge. At least for me, even though the food piqued our interests throughout the night, it was the sake that really defined it. Unique and definitely a clean finish.

Radish Salad w/ crispy baby sardine
Radish Salad w/ crispy baby sardine. This dish was the star of the evening. Ordered 3 times, I would have been happy if it was the only dish. The lightness and subtlety of a lightly pickled daikon, fragrance of a little sesame oil, sweetness and acidity of rice wine vinegar, crispiness of the lightly fried baby sardines, and unique flavor of seaweed all meld together perfectly in this delightful dish.

Yakitori (left to right: chicken skin, chicken meatball, duck, pork belly, chicken). This was pretty average except for the the chicken meatball which was impressively tender and juicy.

Okonomiyaki. This chewy doughy pancake was a delight to eat. I loved the texture of the pancake along with the sauce and bonito.

Grilled Yellowtail Collar w/ salt
Grilled Yellowtail Collar w/ salt. This was a bit salty at times, but the greasy white fish meat was great with the sake. I probably would have liked this more later on in the night, but at that point it may have been harder to handle than I would have liked.

Takoyaki. It might have been because I let this sit a while before I had a piece, but it was a bit soggy for my tastes. The flavors were spot on though.

Cherrystone Clams
Cherrystone Clams. Refreshingly good. Although it did seem like we got one that was pretty bad.

Cold Tofu
Cold Tofu. I didn't have any of this, but I'm not a big fan of most cold tofu's prepped this way. Looked like pretty standard fare.

Some sort of fried root
These were good, but not memorable. It was some sort of fried root. Off the specials menu


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pop Burger

Outside Pop Burger

Pop Burger is one of those places that I constantly walk by but never visit. I've always been intrigued by the glowing interior and just the novelty of it all. I never imagined the food to be stellar. Mostly because the place seemed empty no matter what time I passed. But this week, after my excursion through the Upper West Side back towards my Midtown apartment, I was hungry enough to stop by. Plus, I had a weird craving for a burger of sorts.

Inside Pop Burger

I have to admit, the place was pretty intimidating once I walk in. With glowing walls, no line, and eager employees waiting for my order, I felt the pressure. After taking a quick glance at the menu, I decided on the Pop Burgers. 2 sliders with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce. Pretty generic. It's named after the place. Why not? While I'm at it, a side of onion rings sound good.

Pop Burger(s) & onion rings

The burger was OK. Nothing special. Actually, it was cooked at a pretty good medium. The patty was juicy. The cheese was melty. The biggest infraction? Too much bun for the meat. As far as sliders are concerned, I don't really like it when there is too much bread. With so much bun, it hides a lot of the beef, which was a shame since the patty was actually pretty good. I think I would have loved this if it had more of a softer thinner bun.

The surprise of the meal? The onion rings. I'm pretty picky about my onion rings. I find at most places that the onions are too wet or the the batter is too fried. These were actually perfect. A good crispy fried batter with a dry onion. Not too oily. Perfect with some ketchup/mustard.

After some post meal research, I realized that Pop Burger also has a lounge (follow the red velvet ropes) whose menu (both food and drink) didn't really pique any interest. Would I be returning? Not often and not for the sliders. If I do end up back at Pop Burger, I'd probably try the chicken sandwich which looked pretty well sized and popular. Oh and of course the onion rings.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Making Drinks

a bartender's lemons and limes

You know you've walked into a bartender's home if you see the image above. Not just a mix of lemons, limes, and other fruit but ones that are perfectly zested. I guess the other tell tale signs are the buckets of fermenting peach wine and the well stocked bar.

My friend Stephen is a great guy to have driving the death of your liver. We started off some wine he was able to get at wholesale prices which really made us ponder the ridiculous markup at restaurants. But what I was really looking forward to was what he would serve us once the wine ran out. Now don't get me wrong, the wine was great but its always enjoyable to see a man practice his craft in his own time and environment.

I've always found it difficult to put together menus when cooking for guests. There's a part of me that wants to do something impressive but that usually ends up being so much work that I end up just being the cook and not the host. What I realized works better is to make things that are amazingly simple that require either very little attention or time. That way, with good prep, you can carry on conversation and cook smoothly without breaking a proverbial sweat.

making drinks

This is exactly how Stephen approached the situation. He had a bottle of dark rum he was looking to finish off so he simply paired it with some lemon juice, well shaken with ice, and then strained into your vessel of choice.

The drink? It was nice and smooth and perfectly refreshing the evening and mood. What really got me at the moment was how natural it all felt. The transition from wine to a light mixed drink. The beginning and end of a meal. And how it all complimented a nice evening with friends.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Good food, better company

Conversation is the perfect side to any meal. Nothing beats good food and company, which is exactly what I had last Saturday. On a whim, some friends decided to make some lobster rolls.

Growing up in Boston, lobster was one of those foods that I sort of took for granted. It wasn't until I traveled a bit more around the country that I realized how hard and pricey it was to good get good lobster outside of the coast of New England. With a near continuous supply of lobsters from Maine, the quality and prices in Boston are always good.

The lobsters were quickly boiled in a large pot (the stock was used to make a salty cream soup) and shucked (the hard part). The lobster meat was then mixed simply with some mayo and a small amount of mixed greens. The rolls were lightly toasted in the broiler. The result? A nice delicious lobster roll. And hours of good conversation.

Lobster Rolls
A stack of lobster rolls waiting to be devoured

Lobster Rolls & Co
Like a hotdog, except with lobsters

Salad time
The salad app, with the lobster'ed mayo as dressing


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Joe's Shanghai

Soup Dumplings

Whenever a discussion starts about soup dumplings in NYC pops up, inevitably Joe's Shanghai comes into the picture. Up until 2 weekends ago, I had never been. Mostly because all the signs pointed to lots of hype and lots of disappointment. But with a friend in town, who wanted soup dumplings, I had no better options.

I had heard all the negatives. The dough is too thick. It's not delicate enough. There's not much soup. And the positives. It has good flavors. The dough is thick but good.

And now I can weigh in with my own opinion. They are all right. The dough is thick, but not so bad that it mattered to me. The flavors were good, especially with the crab. Its not delicate like other soup dumplings and it feels a bit more rustic. You won't find yourself accidentally piercing these as you pick them up.

For me, the biggest disappointment was that there was very little soup in the dumpling. You could probably eat these whole without scalding yourself. The little soup that is in there is flavorful but a bit oily. These dumplings would be great if only they had more soup. Everything else if forgivable and even lovable.

Luckily for me, some friend of mine also did a dumpling tour of Chinatown during that weekend. It'll give me a great starting point for my search.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cornmeal Pancakes

This morning I woke up to the glorious darkness that is 3am, famished. What came to mind almost immediately was pancakes. But not just any old pancakes, corn meal pancakes. I immediately got up, showered, and began my quest.

I started with Ruhlman's basic ratio for pancake batter from his book 'Ratio' (2 flour:2 liquid:1 egg:.5 fat) and replaced some flour with polenta and added some maple sugar. I pretty much went by the recipe in the book and ended up with the batter below.

corn meal pancake batter

The result was a nice fluffy cake-like pancake, but with a rougher cornbread like texture.

corn meal pancakes with maple syrup

It satisfied my hunger and was so easy to make that I wondered why I didn't make it more often.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

One of the not so hidden gems about NYC Chinatown is the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for its asian inspired flavors. Its not everyday you can find flavors like ginger, wasabi, avocado, black sesame, and taro.

Being a big fan of black sesame deserts, I had to go for the black sesame ice cream (below). I have to preface my critique with the fact that I was stuffed at the time of tasting, but I wished it had some more sesame flavor. Its not that it wasn't any sesame flavor, it was there, but it missed the boldness of most sesame snacks. Instead it was mild and would have been better with some sort of topping, like some toasted black sesame.

Black Sesame Ice Cream

I'll have to hold my final judgment of the place until I try more flavors and toppings. Hopefully without a full stomach.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar is an adult playroom. In part its a grown-up version of all the things we loved as kids. The cookies, cake, pies, soft serve, and milk. Walking into the bakery, it feels grown-up. It feels like a place where adults would go to do grown-up things. A bakery for serious people.

But the longer I stood there, the less adult it felt. I started to wonder about the cereal milk and how the best thing about cereal is the left over milk . You start to realize the compost cookies have potato chips in them. A child's dream or at least one I would dream up if I could be a child again. Potato chips in a cookie? Are you kidding me? Then the smell of fresh cookies started to permeate the place. I could not get over feeling that the entire place was just a great playground for adults who have not grown up yet, or for those who have forgotten they were once kids.

But that's not to say everything is perfect. I've come to this conclusion about David Chang's line of Momofuku joints: Not all the food will blow me away, but I have to respect the attempt. There's a certain playfulness about the environment he tries to build and the menu his chefs de cuisine try to deliver. They really are just kids in playground. Having fun. This was the most apparent to me at Milk Bar.

Arnold Palmer Cake

My chosen cake for this visit was the Arnold Palmer Cake (above). It was not mind blowingly delicious. But it did taste like an Arnold Palmer and it did get very close to quenching my thirst. It was a good cake and I had fun eating something I usually drink.

As for the cookies, I was able to get my hands on the cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip cookie, compost cookie (potato chips, pretzels, coffee grounds, chocolate chips, graham crumbs, & butterscotch chips), banana cookie, and a chocolate-chocolate cookie.

The cornflake-marshmallow I enjoyed way more than I expected to, mostly because I expected it to be sweeter. It was still sweet, but not as much. The compost has grown on me for its different texture, but at first I found it disappointing. The banana cookie was my favorite. Mostly because of my love of banana's and its ability to become a 'session' cookie, something I could eat all day. The winner by far though was the chocolate-chocolate. Something so decadent and rich that my friend ended up having it with a nice glass of red wine which made me think: 'Why didn't I do that?'